Conspiracy in Politics and the Illusion of Intent

“Never Attribute to Malice That Which Is Adequately Explained by Stupidity”

Attributed to Robert J. Hanlon

Political discourse today, in the past, and for the foreseeable future includes copious amounts of conspiracy creation. People try to connect dots where there is no pattern in order to try and make sense of the world. They do this for many reasons. Not knowing why things happen can be scary and make you feel helpless. Not understanding why things happen can make you feel dumb. Making a conspiracy and convincing people of it can make you feel powerful. Whatever the reason, this tendency to see patterns where no patterns are present and hold onto those delusions with absolute confidence is a serious problem with the public and their understanding of government, domestic and foreign policy, and history.

For example, there is a Right-wing conspiracy that affirmative action and welfare were and continue to be planned by Democrats to make black Americans dependent and subservient to them.

You can argue whether or not the war on poverty or affirmative action have “worked” or lead to a net benefit. But to attribute any failures to a widespread intent among Democrats is ludicrous and absurdly uncharitable. As if literally no Democrat has basic human feelings regarding empathy towards the less fortunate. As if virtually no Democrats have been personally affected by poverty and motivated by that to help the impoverished.

The same conspiracy could be leveled at the other side. A Democrat could say the religious Right (almost all Republicans) don’t care about poor people, that instead they only care about converting people to Christianity (hence preferring religious “charities” over government ones).

I think both of these conspiracies are largely untrue. I think most Democrats and Republicans have a genuine desire to help the poor. Although, I would argue desire to convert people to Christianity is a definite consideration for many the Right. I know of a large church in my City that feeds the poor, but only if the homeless will consent to attending a church service. This of course could still be attributed to good (though misguided) intent; that they are worried for the souls of the homeless.

There is also the Left-wing conspiracy that Trump wouldn’t have won without the Russians.

I know the Russians were up to no good on social media and preferred Trump to win, that is the conclusion of the Mueller Report. But that was a drop in the bucket. Americans were more than sufficiently dumb, hateful, and tribal to cause the same outcome Russia or no Russia.

Ironically, the 2016 election is a place where people on the Left and Right harbor conspiracies about election fraud. Trump followers believe Hillary only won the popular vote because a gazillion non-citizen Mexicans voted for her. There’s no evidence for this, but the conspiracy has lost no steam.

A lot of those on the Left and Right make the claim that public schools intentionally create a dumb electorate of easily controlled people. This is another place where Hanlon’s Razor from the quote earlier in this article comes into play. Yes, in some places public schools may be failing because of some level of intent; being underfunded to push support for charter schools. But this isn’t a grand scheme, and most Republican areas still likely try to do their best with public schools. I say Republican because support for charter schools is generally not something favored by Democrats.

I believe most people in the Department of Education want to educate the people. The problem is that much of the time they just don’t know the best way to go about accomplishing this. Part of the problem may result from elected politicians placing unqualified people in the Department of Education.

Another issue is that many people have different conceptions of what “educated” means. I’m sure Texas thinks it is educating children by using textbooks that treat Moses like a founding father and the Ten Commandments as the primary inspiration of the Constitution. These things are objectively false, but I don’t doubt Texas legislators genuinely believe them. Thus, this failure in education isn’t malice but stupidity.

In closing, I am not saying no conspiracies are real. I am saying that true ones are drastically less common than people think, and that in any given situation, a conspiracy is almost always going to be the less likely answer when speaking in probabilities. Most bad public policy comes from ignorance, narrow minds, and aiming for short-sighted goals in the popularity contest that is an election, not cold-blooded super genius intent.

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